For just a moment there, the NFL was able to kid itself that it was leveraging Taylor Swift.
Now it must be dawning on it that this is working the other way around. Swift is managing the world’s biggest sports league, and making it appear ludicrous in the process.
She was back on Thursday night, acting like touchdowns are V-E Day. Some very famous celebrities develop a sense of when the camera is on them, and can turn it on. Swift has accepted the camera as omnipresent, and never turns it off.
What happened in Thursday’s game in Kansas City between Denver and KC? Taylor Swift.
Who won? Taylor Swift was there. What was your question again?
Since touching down like a giant obelisk three weeks ago, Swift has begun to warp the NFL by the gravity of her presence. She’s already spurred the biggest change in football broadcasting since the telestrator.
Pre-Swift, here’s how football worked – something happened on the field and Tony Romo explained it to you.
Post-Swift – something happens on the field and we wait to see what she thinks of it.
Smiling Taylor? That must be good.
Taylor grabs nearest companion and squeezes her like they’ve both just been released from prison? Very good.
Taylor spins and cold cocks the guy standing next to her? Somebody just won the Super Bowl.
One of the questions people asked when Swift showed up was how she and her fans would adapt to football. Answer – they aren’t. Football is adapting to them.
Check the headlines, and I’m not talking about Variety here. Scroll the biggest sports outlets in the world. Football is Swift’s game now. Other people just play it for her.
Swift isn’t cottoning on to sport (the NFL’s take). She’s humbling it. She’s making sport look like what we forget it is – fundamentally ridiculous.
Everyone needs fun in their lives, so ridiculous is good. Where ridiculous loses its way is when so many people are paying attention that the ridiculous thing begins to think it’s splitting atoms. Swift is a one-woman check on that impulse.
Look at her up there. This isn’t someone having her eyes opened to a new set of possibilities. She isn’t seeing the yellows in a Van Gogh for the first time.
This is someone who can’t believe regular people spend every weekend doing this. So cute.
She shows up for a few hours, has a couple of gin fizzes and then heads back to the real world. Football doesn’t leave her. She leaves football.
While she’s gone, all football can talk about is how cool she is and that it can’t believe they are best friends now.
The NFL wants to believe this runs in the opposite direction. That, at best, it is supercharging Swift’s star power and turning her from a pop singer into an American superhero. Or, at least, that two megabrands are doing each other a solid they profit equally from.
Well, let’s bring out the chains.
Do we believe the anti-sports types rubbernecking her presence will still be there after she leaves? Or is it more likely that the NFL’s obsession with Swift is turning off the sort of traditional fan who doesn’t know that her early country stuff is vastly superior to her contemporary output?
On the other hand, what does Swift get from the NFL? She gets a step ladder and a deflector shield.
Until football showed up, Swift was unpredictably hounded everywhere she went. A couple of shots of her running from a supper club to an SUV couldn’t slake her audience’s thirst. So how about three hours of concentrated Swiftness that you can plan a week out?
Football gives Swift back control of her own image. She performs at games, without the need for choreography or a mic. These appearances are the release valve on a celebrity that’s grown too hot.
The NFL’s Swift problem started the minute she first showed up alongside her ‘boyfriend,’ Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. You knew right then that football was losing this deal.
Kelce is a blandly handsome, fully vaccinated, non-psychopath who’s good at his job. There’s a rumour going around that he read a book. Until Swift arrived, this guy was as close as pro sports gets to the modern da Vinci.
Then he brought Swift home to meet his mom and now we see Kelce for who he is – a guy who lifts weights and wears his pyjamas outside on Sundays. On the hierarchy of dream dates, he’s down there with Argentine polo players and minor Belgian aristocrats.
Kelce’s problem – too American. Too down market. A bit of the rough, really.
Listen to him talk about Swift. Total doofus.
Listen to her talk about him. She doesn’t.
If it can be said that in some relationships one partner wears the pants, in this case only one partner is wearing clothes.
This lack in Kelce doesn’t become apparent until you stand him up beside Swift. Then you can’t stop seeing it. Even when he’s back on the field doing what he does better than almost anyone alive all you can think is ‘13-yard reception for Taylor Swift’s prom date.’
On Thursday, you could feel the camera beginning to avoid Kelce, because showing him creates an expectation that Swift is next. Her presence is having the bizarre effect of erasing the guy she’s there to see.
Maybe this is the real thing. Having seen them photographed together, I doubt it. But sometimes the oddest couples are best.
The more likely outcome for two massively power-imbalanced celebrities who have what TMZ will later call “very busy lives” and zero apparent heat is that this is a phase. That once her world tour is over, if not much sooner, Swift’s need for football’s televisual bullhorn will end.
When that happens, the NFL might never get over her. I’m pretty sure she’ll be fine.